That’s A Lot Of Animals!
What large terrestrial mammal exceeds the number of persons in Wyoming? You guessed it, the Pronghorns. On our trip through the North West we encountered about 100 of these animals. Some were very close to the road while others were far out in the desert feeding on sagebrush. Most of those we saw were in Wyoming and Montana with their expansive deserts and grasslands.
I Thought They Were Called Antelope!:
Even though these animals are not true antelope, like those found in Africa, they are often called such by name. In fact, they have many different common names. Some call them American Antelope, Prong Bucks, Prairie Antelope and even “Berrendo”. (That’s what the Spanish often call them. It means “stained or tinged with two colors“.) As you can see, it is a pretty good description of the animal’s coloration and patterns, being both reddish brown and white. They also have black patches that make them distinct and help you tell the difference between the males and females. Did you know they have no close relative in North America. They are most similar to the giraffe, and okapi, though uniquely different. They make up their own group, being the only animals that have branching horns while shedding only the outer portions annually. The best thing to call them is Antilocapra americana which is their scientific name.
Pronghorns in History:
Did you know these animals were first described by early Spanish Explorers but it wasn’t until William and Clark first encountered them on their expedition back in 1804-1806 that they became known to the scientific community. They first encountered them in South Dakota. These animals provided them with food along the way as well as a lot of new views of the ecology of the regions they explored.
Able to Survive on Foods Others Can’t Eat:
One of the amazing things about these animals is their ability to extract moisture and sustenance from plants that other animals can not palate. They can eat plants that are toxic to animals like cattle and sheep. Because of this behavior they actually can be of benefit to those who raise these domestic animals even though the pronghorn also feed on the grasses in those territories they help remove the plants that could poison or kill domestic flocks. One of the favorite foods of the pronghorn is sagebrush.
How Fast Can They Move?
One of the facts that amazes me is that these animals are only second to the Cheetahs as the fastest land animals. Since there aren’t Cheetahs in North America, that makes them the fastest in our region of the world. Not only can they run quickly, they also can swim and have been known to swim clear across waters up to 1 mile wide. When God created these animals He gave them very large windpipes, hearts and lungs so they could get enough oxygen to endure these sustained tasks. Besides their speed, they also have the ability to change their gait with strides up to 8 yards a stride. They are known to have 13 distinct gaits by those scientists that have studied them. What makes it even more amazing is that these animals are at high elevations when they run. Have you ever tried to run or hike uphill at altitudes over 3,000 feet? The air is much thinner there! Pronghorns are usually found between 3,000 and 5.900 ft. in elevation.
Horns Are Different Than Other Animals:
One thing that is interesting about the Pronghorns is that they only shed the outer sheath of their horns rather than the whole thing like the elk and deer.
A unique behavior of the pronghorn is their ability to “flash” a signal that can be seen by humans up to 2.5 miles away. The “flash” however, is not for humans. It is a signal used by the group to warn others of danger. The way this occurs is by the animal raising its stiff white hairs on its rump region. That’s a neat trick, don’t you think?
The Better to See You:
Pronghorn also have very big eyes and a large field of vision. They can see up to 320 degrees around them. They seem to be more in tune with movement than being able to see distinct images like a hawk. Being curious animals, they have been known to walk up very close to humans as long as they stay still. They have a keen sense of smell as well.
Speaking of Smell!!!
Did you know pronghorns have a distinct odor? They produce this with special scent glands located on the sides of their necks. This musky odor allows them to communicate with others of their own kind about territorial boundaries as well as other things. Males seem to give off the strongest odors allowing them to let other males know to keep their distances when mating season arrives.
Another interesting behavior is how the males indicate aggression. If they hold a staring match with another and the other does not drop his head in submission, there could be a battle. In this way many battles are won without any bloodshed or injury. The younger males and weaker contenders know it’s best to move away and let the stronger ones have their territory and right to the females. Pronghorns also signal aggression by expelling air forcefully through their noses creating a huffing sound.
Who Are Their Greatest Enemies?
You might wonder why these animals have to be so quick and attentive. Did you know there are many potential dangers to the pronghorn. The leading one is humans. Besides hunters, the majority of pronghorn that die are killed by automobile collisions. They are also very vulnerable to attack by cougars, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, and golden eagles. The most danger is for the young when they are first born. God, however, has equipped these animals for the dangers they face. They work well as a group to warn each other and the babies have the ability, in just four days after birth, to outrun a human. Baby pronghorn stay near their mothers who are very watchful.
Male and Female Differences:
The male pronghorn have black face and neck patches. They are 10% larger in size than the females and hold their heads high when on the run. The male’s horns are longer than their ears while the female horns are shorter. Females hold their horns nearly horizontal on the run and lack the black patches. Females and young spend the majority of the time together until the young males reach the age of 3 or 4. Males only spend time with females during the mating season. The rest of the time they live in Bachelor herds or alone. It seems like the ‘loners’ are the oldest of the males that no longer can contend with the younger bucks. Female groups of up to 23 individuals are common, and male bachelor groups are often composed of up to 36 individuals.
Other Interesting Pronghorn Facts:
Pronghorns get their name from their prominent pair of branching two- point horns composed of keratin, the material similar to that in your fingernails.
Pronghorns are most active just before sunset and after the sunrise.
We often saw them in groups in the morning and evenings in depressions between the rolling hills. One spent the night in a depression near our hotel in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
Pronghorns often dig a depression in the ground for their droppings.
Pronghorns can help regulate body temperature by raising and lowering their stiff hairs.
The mothers give birth to a single baby at their first pregnancy and usually twins or even triplets thereafter. The gestation period for females is about 252 days.
The primary mating season is between July and October.
Hunters who seek pronghorn have about a 90% success rate in the regions where they hunt making them a popular game animal.
Pronghorn have a wide range of vocalizations including bleating by the fawns, grunts by the females and bellows by the males.
Pronghorn often dig up food in the winter with their front feet through the snow.
Pronghorn can eat cacti as well as sagebrush. They acquire a great deal of their water from the vegetation they eat.
Females usually move off from the group when they have their young and then rejoin the herd shortly thereafter.
An adult female averages between 75 and 110 lbs while males range between 88 and 140 lbs.
Enjoy All of God’s Creation:
As we travel and explore it is wonderful to know the One who created all this beauty and majesty. I thank God for giving us such a beautiful world in which to live providing us with a lot of new things to discover and ways to see He exists and that He has a plan for our lives. I hope you too have come to know Him and give Him the Glory for all He has done.